Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The best kind of visitor

The Safari had the stealth-cam out all the while we were away but the batteries must have been on their last legs as we only got daytime activations. Yesterday we got round to buying some new batteries and set it up late evening overlooking the ground feeder with some sunflower hearts in it. If the Long Tailed Field Mice were still about they'd come to the food and trip the camera and of course there's a multitude of passing cats to be snapped.
The time on the camera shows it must have been waiting for us to put the food out, it was only a few minutes earlier that we'd set the scene up!
And it was munching away in the morning not long after we'd been out with Frank through the back door only a few feet from the food tray - brazen these mice are!
But what of the intervening hours of darkness? Yes, there was cat after cat after cat but we also hit garden gold.
We haven't seen or heard any evidence of the local Foxes for several months so were really chuffed to get this one passing through on the first night the camera was set up, which begs the question is it a regular route for them???? Tonight's camera might shed a little more (infra-red) light on the question.
Not entirely sure what it's stopped to sniff at, can't be 'looking' to see if Frank is still about as it's well past his bedtime. We now need some tasty morsels that the cats wont be interested in to see if we can tempt it/them to linger longer - boiled eggs perhaps; any other suggestions anyone. Are there cubs??? Do we still have Hedgehogs coming into the garden?
At lunchtime we were allowed out for a couple of hours and as we'd had a call from LR about the orchids at the nature reserve we decided to go and check them out. We pulled up at our usual parking spot and as we locked the Land Rover doors something dark lying in the grass caught our eye. We thought we'd best not step in it and saw that it wasn't that yukky stuff that should be picked up but something bizarrely out of habitat and totally out of context. It was a Mermaid's Purse, or more accurately an empty egg-case from a Thornback Ray. How'd that got there? Dropped by a passing gull, passed through a passing gull - hope not we picked it up!, fallen out of a child's seaside bucket or fallen from a fisherman's car. Anyway it's possibly the oddest find we've ever had there and we've had some weird stuff over the years.
We know they like it wet but nowhere near as dry as a wetland!
We had a look over the water but all was quiet. A pale thing attracted our attention.
Was it a giant dead Eel, was it the arm of  the long lost mythical Boggart, looked far too big to be a piece of Yellow Water Lily root or Reedmace rhizome. What was it? Later, from the other side we were to discover it was a large piece of tree branch covered in old bleached water weed - almost disappointing!
Our mission to find the orchids didn't go quite to plan as we'd seemed to have forgotten exactly where they were and ended up looking about 15 yards away from their patch. We did find them in the end. Most only had flower buds like this large and stout Common Spotted Orchid.
But some of the Northern Marsh Orchids(?) were just waiting for another sunny day to open fully.
We didn't count them but were later reliably informed by MMcG that there were at least 45 spikes waiting to open.
After that we had a look from the Viewing Platform and enjoyed a few Swifts until the weather cooled a little and about 30 turned up only to depart as quickly as they came whe nit warmed up again a few minutes later.
Coming out of the scrub we bumped in to the Kids Club being led by Ranger Steve from the caravan site on a guided wildlife walk and we were able to show them something really special.
Most of them had never seen any kind of newt before and some hadn't even heard of them but they all had a turn of gently holding it, even some of the mums! There were three altogether, all small ones from last year, which is our best count on the reserve.
Not far away in the scrub is our favourite tree on the reserve, an Elm which has obviously succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease but is now recovering and growing strongly - great to see, is it too far from the colonies of White Letter Hairstreak butterflies to hope they might find it - actually there are at least two other Elm trees on the reserve, the nearer one is much bigger than this one but bigger is more easily found by the Elm Bark Beetle and Dutch Elm Disease might not be far away.
Another great couple of hours on safari.
Where to next? With the antics of #spinelesssimon on Springwatch we might have to get the underwater camera out and set it up in our pond at work tomorrow to see if our 3-Spined Sticklebacks are as interesting as he is. Our hols have come to an end so Patch 2 will be back in play too.
In the meantime let us know what needs a few hours of sun to burst forth in your outback.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Southside safari

The Safari picked up BD yesterday morning and we headed to the huge wetland reserve over the river. We had a bird or two to twitch. We stopped at a field close to our destination and the first thing we noticed was we'd left our trusty Swazzas at home...ohhh no an all day visit to one of the North West's top reserves and no bins!!! Our quarry here was Yellow Wagtails which we did see briefly but they disappeared into the ruts in a ploughed field almost as soon we pulled up.
Once through the doors and onto the reserve proper we could have hired some bins but chose not too ass we knew that much of the stuff would be distant and others would be so close as to not need the bins, but we won't be forgetting them next time that's for sure! We didn't need them to spot this huge Chicken of the Woods fungus. 
A look in the nearest hide wasn't too productive with just lots of nesting Black Headed Gulls and several Shelducks and a couple of pairs of Avocets. At the back of the pool was a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits, some in their summer finery but too far away for any pics. The trails are about as insect friendly as it gets with just a one mower width strip along the path edge cut for 'neatness'. Why can't all roadside verges be managed this way - it's not rocket science.Just look at that colour and visit next week and it'll probably be different as the next species in the succession comes into flower.
We arrived at the intended hide to learn the diminutive Temminck's Stint was in view but the other bird we'd hoped to see, the White Winged Black Tern, had done a bunk overnight. The bins would have been useless for spotting the stint it was miles away across the marsh, almost half way back to Base Camp it seemed, even with the scope wound up to full volume 70x it was still little more than a small dot although in the good light we could tell it was a summer plumaged dot. Temminck's Stint (165) on the list; a bonus species that wasn't really on the radar in our Year List Challenge with Monika. The old Dutchman Mr Temminck has fair few species named after him.
We shared our scope with several other visitors who only had bins with them to ensure they got the best views possible. One of those said she'd just seen a Merlin flying across the back fields as we were watching a distant Barn Owl hunting out in broad daylight. A Merlin here at the end of May would be unusual so we thought she may have seen a Hobby but couldn't relocate it.
Moving on back to the previous hide we stopped to have a good look at the superb variety of grasses and wildflowers on the bank amongst the 4-5000+ YO 'Bog Oaks' on display. It's amazing to think that these trees which look like they were felled recently were actually growing in the Middle Stone Age! 
From the hide there wasn't much to see but one of the punters there said they'd seen a Cuckoo not long since - that was probably what the 'Merlin' was, not a Hobby
Next stop was right around the far side of the reserve, you can't do a round circuit at this reserve. Here the water levels were down and lots of black sticky mud was exposed. A very dirty legged Redshank was the first bird seen other than the multitude of nesting Black Headed Gulls. We were a little disappointed to see the little islands that used to be covered in shingle were now well vegetated and so far less suitable for Common Terns and Little Ringed Plovers to nest on although the Black Headed Gulls and a pair of Oystercatchers were taking full advantage.
Eventuality we found the Little Ringed Plovers (166), more tiny dots well camouflaged and miles away on the mud.
Phone-scoped at 70x mag
Even further away was a small group of Whooper Swans unable to migrate to Iceland but they had strayed too close to a pair of Avocet's chicks and the adults were trying to drive them off, even giving them stamps on the back in one instance. We were able to get a family of youngsters to witness this through the scope - great behaviour for them to see first-hand. Also close by but not a threat to the Avocets were two Pink Footed Geese.
Outside the breeding season the marshy grasslands are grazed by a herd of Longhorn Cattle to get the grass the right length and tussockiness for the wintering geese and then the breeding waders. The bulls are impressive beasts.

Retracing our steps, as you have to, we stopped at the raised hide and had excellent views of a Blackcap and some Tree Sparrows. Somewhere in the thicket below us was a Whitethroat too but it refused to show itself.
Arty Tree Sparrow
A Blackbird sang its glorious fluty song non-stop for ages and looking at it more closely we saw it was ringed, probably on site. 
All of a sudden it dropped like a stone with an alarm call and milliseconds later a Sparrowhawk flashed through exactly where it had been - a lucky escape! Checking our photos on the puter later none of them show it to have two feet on the branch, nor do BD's pics.
The hawk put paid to the bird activity so on we went stopping a few yards further down the path to admire some large fungi which we thought were Puffballs at first but closer inspection by BD revealed them to have a thick, short stipe who thought it was more than likely to be St George's Mushrooom.
While admiring them we heard an unusual alarm call we couldn't identify, was it a corvid or a squirrel? But it was in the area where Tawny Owls hang out in the densely Ivy covered trees. Looking up we saw a blob in the open in one of the Scot Pine trees, a Tawny Owl (167), nice even if a poor view, we've only heard them or had very fleeting flight views in the car headlights in recent years.
Stepping back a few yards to try to get a better angle we came across its mate tucked up close to the tree trunk only a couple of feet away but not visible from where we were before.
Once again we were able to get lots of youngsters on to it, and after a little while this one went to sit next  to the other out in the open but the only view of them together was looking right up their backsides through lots of twigs. Tawny Owls love to roost up unseen in Ivy - another good reason NOT to clear it from the trees its growing up -it does no harm...we did see a bloke hacking away at some on our hols last week - - numpty, probably thought it's going to kill the tree or it just looks that nightmare word 'untidy'!
The cold wind meant there weren't many invertebrates about, an Early Bumble Bee early on in the day and a white buttterfly were all we could really muster until BD's sharp eyes found a fence post covered with flies all lined up facing the same way, like planes on an aircraft carrier - we tried to get pics of the unusual array but inched too close and flushed them, we don't recall ever seeing anything quite like that before. It was just after we disturbed them that BD found an Ichneumon Wasp and was able to catch it as it wasn't very lively in the cool temperatures.
Looking at our pic we now think it could be some kind of Sawfly rather than an Icneumon Wasp.
A food and coffee stop by the captive collection offered some super photo opportunities and we've always wanted to get a decent pic of the simple but stunning patterns on a drake Gadwall.
Almost mesmerising to look at for a long time
A look at the time showed us time was running short and with no further sign of the White Winged Black Tern we decided to leave and have a last look down the lane for the Yellow Wagtails. We were glad we did, they were very close this time. Thanks to DC for the gen on which field to find them too - cheers bud.
We had a final stop at the Common Tern colony at the docks on the way back to Base Camp where there weren't many terns in and they were mostly right across the far side. A Great Black Backed Gull played with something in the water, we thought it looked like a fish but on closer inspection seems to be a piece of twig or root, vegetable rather than animal anyway.
So another very enjoyable safari with plenty of great wildlife found and shared; and thanks to BD for the company.
Where to next? Last day of freedom tomorrow, hopefully we'll get out somewhere.
In the meantime let us know who's snuck off before time in your outback.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

More than one moth at last

The Safari wasn't able to get out today but that doesn't mean that we missed out on safari-ing!  Our early morning walk with Frank gave us a sinfing Blackcap (Garden #29) that sounded as though it was in or near the Golden Triangle. Can't believe there's been so many about and this is the first we've heard from Base Camp. Not been past the Golden Triangle for ages, hope no-one has decided to 'tidy it up' - that would be an ecological disaster.
We put the moth trap out last night with the big light for a change. When we woke to take Frank out we could hear rain outside and looking out of the bedroom our fears were confirmed it was lashing down. Fortunately the light was still on and hadn't shattered. When we came to empty it out there must have been about two pints of water in the bottom and a load of soggy egg boxes. But there were moths - PLURAL - too.
All phone pics
Common Pug
A dark Shuttle-shaped Dart
A medium Shuttle-shaped Dart having a drink, or at least a taste of the table
A pale Shuttle-shaped Dart with a Flame Shoulder
Heart & Dart with another Flame Shoulder
There was a Light Brown Apple Moth too.
Later we were doing chores upstairs when we noticed something stuck to the bathroom floor. It was a small bee. The chores were dropped and the camera with macro lens picked up.
A tweet to bee expert RC had it identified as a Red Mason Bee, Osmia bicornis, a new species for us.
In the afternoon we had an attack on the garden with loppers breaking our own don't wreck the habitat for the 'sake of tidiness' rule but didn't come across anything of any note. In fact it was almost invert free for some reason. We had a look on the trellising to see if there were any jumping spiders or Ruby Tailed Wasps but there we nothing at all. After seeing our first local Blue Tailed Damselfly at the nature reserve yesterday we had a good look at our pond but there's no sign of them yet.
So you don't need to go far to see something new...only a s far as the bathroom! Isn't nature great.
Where to next? A twitch to the Southside could be on the cards tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's turned up in multiple numbers in your outback.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Back on home turf

The Safari was back on much more familiar territory at the nature reserve this arvo. We'd had an offer from CR to join him earlier this morning but we couldn't go as Frank was at his hydrotherapy again mid-morning.
The first thing we noticed as we left the Land Rover was the change in wildflowers the predominantly yellows of early spring had been joined by other colours and dome of the grasses on the wetland were looking lush and flowering. The very first pool had a big splash of bright pink from the Ragged Robin at the far end.
There were Sedge Warblers singing all over the place, Swallows swooping and Reed Buntings flitting and singing too. The Cetti's Warbler exploded loudly from its usual place. We had a look for Bee Orchid rosettes at the old compound site without success but the Germander Speedwell is beginning to open, it'll be stunning in a couple of days if the sun shines.

The Yellow Rattle is coming on too

While we were photographing it a Lesser Whitethroat rattled away nearby. It's close relative the Whitethroat appear to be healthily numerous this summer which is good. There was plenty of song and churrrs coming from the scrubby areas. Wandering on we had a good look at the scrape, no waders but if the water level continues to drop over the next few weeks it'll be looking good for autumn passage waders, we could do with a dryish summer please. It'll be even better in a couple or three years when it has more of a layer of silt and rotten vegetation for the waders to probe in.
At the bridge we had a look in the channel to see if we could see any Elvers but we didn't although a nice bright 3-spined Stickleback was lurking close to the bank. 
An idiot on one of the camp site's hire tikes decided to ride it through the channel, marvelous! It was then we noticed that a fair bit of the Elver mitigation 'brushes' had been pulled up and chucked around - marvelous, the site's only been busy for a couple of weekends and the season hasn't really started yet - how much will be left by the start of September?
We'd seen a Buzzard with a primary missing drifting about and thought it was the regular one that hangs around the area. It had landed on the pylon by the channel and we got our best ever Buzzard pics this arvo.

We're sure we can improve on this in the coming months. But it was disturbed by a particularly persistent Carrion Crow which made it fly off and we saw it had no missing wing feathers so there are two in the general area.
The gulls went up several times, once we found a Heron was the culprit and once it was a Helium balloon - aka high flying littter - doing the damage but the other times we missed whatever it was although there was a Great Black Backed Gull on the water for some of the afternoon so it could have been that at least once or twice.
Turning back rather than doing the full circuit we came across some vetches, both Common and Bush Vetch coming into flower. This is Bush Vetch.
While we were photographing this a right dog-walking ar*e came past with three unleashed mutts that had obviously been in the water. One of them almost trod on the subject as it came so close - we looked at him in almost despair and all he could say was "Oh fu*k off - you 'naturists' are all the same". We hadn't said a word. Charmed we're sure! Then one of his charges did a sh*t right next to the path which he totally ignored - really should have taken a pic or video but by then we were unsuccessfully trying to get a pic of a Whitethroat doing its song flight.
Which bit of 'Dogs must be on a lead' do these ar*eholes not understand? Seems that far too many people get a dog and mysteriously lose the ability to read. Come on Cameron you want to tax the minions more - a dog tax wouldn't go a miss. 200 quid and a compulsory chip would sort out those that really want a dog from those that don't and the chip would give local authorities the opportunity to get owners info from them with a reader to fine the feckers when they accidentally forget the rules.
Our last flower spot of the day was yellow one but not one of the early yellows, Creeping Cinqufoil.
We bumped into PL on the way out and passed an hour putting the world to rights which made us late for Wifey and nearly got us into trouble...not his fault though.
In other news we saw that the Gooden's Nomad Bees are out in the neighbours dry stone bank near Base Camp, if we don't get out tomorrow...
Where to next? Should be able to get out somewhere later on.
In the meantime let us know who's wearing all the colours in your outback.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Back on the west coast

The Safari had a trip over to Holy Island yesterday. We checked at the tide tables and they said they there was plenty for us to cross. The causeway is covered by several feet of water at high tide and you really don't want to get caught out - time and tide and all that. So over we went and ended up at the already quite full enormous car-park. 
The posts in the middle distance show the walking route across the flats and it's not often you drive along a road with seaweed strewn all over it!
The Castle is only 400 years old and much modified in the early 20th C
The car-park was so big that Frank would never be able to get out of it so we turned and went back to another smaller car-park on the nature area away from the hullabaloo. It was cold and windy but there was a Little Egret (the only one of the hols). The top of the dunes gave a view of the not so ancient castle.
Heading back to the mainland
The Priory that remains today is Norman in origin being founded 300 years after the Viking raid on the original priory but not in the same place, the Parish Church stands on that site. 
That raid was the very beginnings of our ancestry as our hand problem is a genetic condition linked quite closely to the Vikings; although there is now some evidence that Vikings had at least visited and possibly settled parts of Britain a few years earlier and the raid had prior knowledge of what they would likely find by way of defenders and treasure. Despite our genetic make-up we don't condone chopping up defenceless monks with axes
Our journey back to Base Camp took us past the extensive planting on the hillside again and we got to thinking wouldn't it be great to have a National Forest - no not like Sherwood Forest or the New Forest but a real continuous wild-space covered in regionally native trees (where appropriate ie not on flower-rich grasslands or wet peat) from Land's End to John O Groats and Holyhead to Lowestoft for starters. It would ideally be no less than a mile wide at any one point and there would be no gaps of more than a mile every 50 miles. The forest would be an invaluable wildlife corridor, for recreation - the good of our souls and offer employment opportunities like coppicing, bodging and other woodland products/crafts. It could be started by linking all the existing patches of woodland and shelter belts.
Something like this for starters - sure the farmers and other land owners will head over heels with the idea!
That swathe is well less than the 'obligatory' mile
Who's going to pay for it? Us the tax-payer - we already give those farmers and land owners loads of our taxes as it is. If there's a benefit cap of £26,000 for 'normal' people then the Single Farm Payment should be capped at that too and the rest used for public benefit. Wouldn't it be great to see some extensive upland reforestation! Don't all start screaming (or dreaming) at once; can see it happening - we need to re-wild ourselves before we think about re-wilding the landscape and what should be living in it.
Where to next? We might get an hour out somewhere tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's planting all the trees in your outback

Thursday, 21 May 2015

That scrape came up trumps

The Safari was out early again and this time the scrape delivered the goods and we hit the jackpot.
A very fine drake Garganey (163)
Musta been hungry didn't lift its head from the water much
Also there was a Willow Tit (164) in the most unusual place, not deep in woodland cover but on the exposed fence on the side of the road. An excellent bonus bird to just about end our east coast sojourn with.
Where to next? Might just be able to sneak in an early morning nip out.
In the meantime let us know who dropped in for the day in your outback

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

More from across the water

The Safari's best find yesterday on the islands was a Collared Dove on the outermost island, Longstone the one which Grace Darling lived on and rescued folks from. We thought it might have been a Turtle Dove when we first saw it but it proved to be otherwise when it landed on the seaweed near the lighthouse.Sadly we wonder if we'll ever see another one in Britain, it's been long enough since the last.
A small number of Fulmars (162) were cruising around the islands.
Everyone goes for the gaudy Puffins for their souvenir photos but we tried and failed to get a pic of the Rock Pipit it was in almost the exact same spot as our last visit a couple of years ago. There was one on the harbour wall that evaded the lens too as we waited for the boat.
Some pics from on the island.
OK now for the Puffins
So just how close are you allowed to get?
Great to see school groups getting on there to view the exceptional wildlife a close quarters - even if they weren't over keen on the pong!
Another early morning wander round the pools gave us a Barn Owl by the Tin Church, which had Frank got us up as early as he has been we'd have had splendid views and probably some photo opportunities. A (the?) pair of Grey Partridges flushed from the long grass beside the track but this time they were kind enough to land in full view in a short rougher area of the adjacent field. What stunners they are and what a real shame they are now so scarce. It must be time to ban the release of non-native Red Legged Partridges we think. No-one has to do an Environmental Impact Assessment of jump through a million consultation hoops to let these things go in the countryside unlike the conservation groups have to do with formerly native or even locally extirpated species.
The wader count on the scrape had increased to three whole Lapwings. A group of Swallows and House Martins were gathering were gathering nesting mud from one particularly favoured patch. 
The pool too was quiet but 'new in' were a couple Little Grebes. They successfully dived for Sticklebacks several times until one surfaced too close to the other and a skirmish ensued sending them both skittering in to the reeds in different directions.
There was no sign of the Marsh Harrier again.
Back at the scrape we scanned for the Roe Deer and soon found the doe browsing along the hedgerow then the buck walked into view to join her and they both went to hole up for the day.
Digiscoped at a distance
A familiar teu tue tue call had us whip the scope back round to scan the scrape, there at the back was a fine Greenshank. It called several times more before heading off to the south east. 'Bird of the Scrape' so far!
A trip down the coast saw us on the beach opposite Coquet Island famed for its Roseate Tern colony. Too far away for us to see any with just our bins and all the terns fishing nearby were Sandwich Terns. There was a feeding frenzy to the south of the island - if only we could have got out there.
We took Frank down to the surf for a paddle and while we were there a tiny wavelet left something fluttering around on the sand. At first we thought it was a bit of plastic but the wind didn't blow it away. On closer inspection it was a Weaver Fish. We rescued it with our boot - not going to pick one of those poisonous spined things. So we flick-kicked it back into the sea. It reappeared on the beach on the next wave but one more deft flick-kick had it further into the water and it recovered enough to swim into the deaths.
We weren't expecting that - isn't nature great!
Where to next? Yet more eastern promise tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's left the waters in your outback.